Manufactured Terrorism: FBI paid key terror informants $56,000

Tactic will outrage jurors, defense says
Jul. 26, 2006

The FBI paid almost $56,000 to two confidential informants who are key to the case against seven men accused of being involved in a terrorist plot to blow up the Sears Tower and other targets.

According to a document filed by federal prosecutors, the FBI paid one unnamed informant $10,500 and an additional $8,815 in expenses. They also paid a second informant $17,000 with another $19,570 for expenses.

U.S. officials also granted the second informant a "significant public benefit" -- immigration parole so he could remain in the country.

While using paid informants is not unusual in criminal cases, defense attorneys for the accused men said the compensation and benefits will help them show jurors the informants are not trustworthy.

"The fact that these are not just good citizens that are cooperating with the government, but that these are opportunists that are trying to earn not only money but other benefits by creating a case is extremely significant," said Gregory Prebish, attorney for Burson Augustin, one of the accused.

The seven men, part of a religious group headquartered in the Liberty City area of Miami-Dade County, are facing various charges in connection with attacks they allegedly planned.

Much of the case hinges on the two informants, one of whom knew the men and participated in the investigation after alerting authorities. The second man posed as an al-Qaida operative at the FBI's direction, according to prosecutors. Secret recordings made by the informants are also central to the case.

According to court documents, alleged ringleader Narseal Batiste approached the first informant, an acquaintance who has worked with the FBI since around 2004 and who has previously been arrested for assault, possession of marijuana, and motor vehicle violations.

Batiste allegedly asked the informant whether he knew anyone in Yemen who would be willing to support his mission against the United States.

After he began working with the FBI on the case, the informant introduced Batiste to the second informant, who has been working with the FBI for about six years.

The amount of money paid to the informants does not tell the whole story, defense attorneys said.

The informants also received valuable noncash perks, they said, like the immigration parole.

"That's a priceless benefit," said Albert Levin, attorney for Patrick Abraham, one of the seven.

"You've got to question justice if you've got money being paid to create cases," said Nathan Clark, attorney for Rotschild Augustine. "I think it's clearly going to demonstrate the lack of credibility of the charges against my client."

Levin said jurors would likely be outraged to learn how much was spent investigating a "so-called terrorist organization."

According to prosecutors, the men did not pose an imminent threat.

"I would think that the taxpayers would be outraged that they're paying this kind of money for this kind of information," he said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment Tuesday, citing the pending case.

Lawyer Mark Schnapp of Greenberg Traurig, former head of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's office, said compensating informants is routine in federal investigations.

"It's very rare you're going to find someone actively working undercover as an informant without being paid in some fashion," Schnapp said. "At the end of the day, what's on the tapes will govern."

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